Rob Font facing career revival, potential title shot with win vs. Cody Garbrandt

·Combat columnist
·4 min read

LAS VEGAS — Rob Font is 8-3 in the UFC and ranked third in the deep and talented featherweight division. On Saturday at Apex, he’ll meet former champion Cody Garbrandt in what will stand as the most significant fight of his career to this point.

Font would be undefeated in the UFC were it not for Brazilian fighters. His losses came to Brazilians John Lineker and Pedro Munhoz in Brazil and Raphael Assuncao in Las Vegas.

But it was the loss to Lineker, in just his third UFC fight, that put Font on the path toward contention at bantamweight. The division is one of the UFC’s deepest, and it was the lesson he learned after fighting Lineker in Curitiba, Brazil, at UFC 198 on May 14, 2016, that showed him what it takes to win at the highest level.

The Brazilian crowd is known for being intimidating and chanting, “Voce vai morrer” — Portuguese for “You’re going to die” — at foreign fighters facing Brazilians.

“I started out on the local scene fighting and then made my [UFC] debut in 2014 and knocked out George Roop,” Font said. “Then I had a little layoff and got Joey Gomez. No disrespect to him, because he was basically a local fighter who jumped in on short notice. Then I got the call to fight Lineker in Brazil and I was like, ‘Let’s do this! It’s exciting. It’s cool.’ But I don’t think I was mentally prepared for that fight.

“I definitely wasn’t mature enough for that fight. I didn’t really calculate the travel and fighting in front of all those fans in his hometown and hearing the Brazilians boo and chant. I was just kind of like, ‘No big deal, it’s just another day,’ but it really wasn’t.”

Rob Font, right, in action against Ricky Simon during their mixed martial arts bout at UFC Fight Night, Saturday, December 7, 2019, in Washington, D.C. Font won via unanimous decision. (AP Photo/Gregory Payan)
Rob Font, right, in action against Ricky Simon during their mixed martial arts bout at UFC Fight Night on Dec. 7, 2019, in Washington, D.C. Font won via unanimous decision. (AP Photo/Gregory Payan)

He learned that just working on technique and being in great physical shape isn’t all that is required at the sport’s highest level. It’s kind of like the difference between teeing off on the first hole at your local course with all of your buddies in your regular Saturday game compared to walking to the first tee in the opening round of The Masters.

“There’s a lot of mental preparation and things that go on besides fighting,” he said. “It was one of those learning-on-the-job situations.”

That happens to many athletes, and this is where careers fork. Some lose their confidence, whither away and are never close to the same. Others learn from it and overcome the loss.

That’s what Font has done — learn.

Since losing to Lineker, he’s 6-2 and has looked a lot more like a high-end bantamweight contender rather than a wide-eyed challenger.

Now, Font is in his first main event, facing an opponent with an impressive resume coming off a jaw-dropping finish. Font is anticipating the best Garbrandt there has been, and that’s saying something.

“I think we’ll see a mixture of the guy who beat [Dominick] Cruz and the guy who knocked out Assuncao,” Font said. “I’m expecting the best Cody Garbrandt out there. I think he, as the former champ, he’s had a taste of the belt and he wants that belt back. He’s willing to do whatever it takes to get back that belt.

“It’s going to be on him not to get crazy and not to get excitable, because he knows I can punch and I’m accurate. I’m going to let my hands go as much as possible, frustrate him and draw out that guy who fought T.J. [Dillashaw] and the guy who fought Munhoz and make him pay.”

If Font upsets Garbrandt, it will stamp him as a legitimate contender. But the problem is, champion Aljamain Sterling and former champ Petr Yan are expected to rematch later this year. And Dillashaw, the ex-champ, is slated to fight No. 2 Cory Sandhagen in July.

So even a win by Font over Garbrandt won’t guarantee him a shot at the title. But Font has learned from his mistakes in the past and isn’t allowing himself to start playing the what-if game.

“I’m not looking ahead, but a big win over Garbrandt puts me in that title talk for sure,” he said. “I think I’m one behind. We have to see how the championship fight plays out, and Cory Sandhagen and T.J. need to fight. The way Cory has been fighting, finishing guys, he’s a little ahead of me, and you have the former champ who didn’t lose the 35 belt. So he’s probably ahead of me as well.

“But you never know. You don’t know how it’s going to play out and you don’t know how injuries are going to work. I’m right there, though. I just have to go out and put on a show and make it exciting and get a finish. Then, I just wait for that call.”

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